Published: May 2003

Barry Bishop

Barry Bishop

A Geographer of the First Order

Sitting on top of the world, National Geographic photographer Barry Bishop unfurls the United States and National Geographic Society flags on Mount Everest. On May 22, 1963, Bishop and his teammates became the first Americans to reach the summit.

By Cassandra Franklin-Barbajosa
Photograph by Barry Bishop

If you ever managed to get Barry Bishop talking about himself, he likely failed to mention the not-so-insignificant fact that he was a member of the first American team to summit Mount Everest. That's just how Barry was. Besides having a quick sense of humor and a passion for science and exploration, he was also exceedingly modest. And unstoppable.

Frostbite during the Everest ascent claimed all his toes and the tips of his little fingers, but that didn't deter him from moving forward. After President John F. Kennedy awarded the team with the Hubbard Medal in the White House Rose Garden, Barry continued his work as a photographer, writer, and educator at the Society. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in geography and, until his retirement in 1994, served as vice chairman, then chairman, of National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. That same year on September 24, Barry Bishop died in an automobile accident near Pocatello, Idaho. His wife, Lila, suffered minor injuries. The couple was on their way to San Francisco, where he was to deliver a lecture.

The following November the Society honored him posthumously with the Distinguished Geography Educator award, a fitting acknowledgment of one whose life reflected National Geographic's mission of increasing and diffusing geographic knowledge. "We could always count on Barry for well-considered advice," says National Geographic Editor in Chief Bill Allen. "We also admired his concern for the people of the Himalayas and the welfare of the planet."

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